Ugetsu Monogatari

Japan 1953, 94 mins
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

One of Mizoguchi’s greatest films, Ugetsu Monogatari intertwines two ghost stories into a shiveringly beautiful masterpiece whose pictorial accomplishment (were it not for the fluidity of his camera moves, almost every frame would deserve freezing) never distracts from its narrative and emotional core. Two peasant brothers are determined to make something of themselves by exploiting opportunities presented by war-torn 16th-century Japan. One seeks wealth through selling his pottery, the other fame from martial prowess: both are undone by their greed. But calling it a morality tale does no justice to Mizoguchi’s treatment: when the potter meets the mysterious Lady Wakasa, the physical and supernatural worlds achieve a perfect if fleeting balance.
Michael Brooke, Sight and Sound, July 2008

A contemporary review
Kenji Mizoguchi, who died six years ago, had made eighty-eight films in a career stretching back to the Twenties. Only one of them! Street of Shame, has previously been shown commercially in Britain, though critics have been able to see more of this almost legendary director’s work at European festivals.

Ugetsu may or may not be his masterpiece; certainly it is a wonderful example of two of the qualities Japanese critics consistently found in his work – his delicate, sure-footed sense of period, and his concern, above all, with the psychology of the women characters he created. Miyagi, with her premonitions of disaster, her instinctive conservatism, and Ohama, the tougher, more hard-headed wife of the simple, boastful Tobei, are characters created in greater depth than the two men, whose ambitions bring catastrophe to both families. Ugetsu’s moral is essentially a conservative one; and the beautiful scene in which the phantom Miyagi welcomes Genjuro home, re-establishing the peace which his actions have broken, reinforces it.

Mizoguchi took his subject from a famous eighteenth century collection of stories bringing together two separate episodes – the ghost princess comes from one story, the ghost wife from another. In fact, the film’s most ‘ghostly’ scene ­– in a Western sense – belongs to ‘reality’: the moment when the second boat suddenly appears on the misty lake. Both the phantom princess, with her longing for the love she missed in life, and the gentle ghost wife, setting about her housework, are human shades; and the film’s supreme art lies in its ability to blend the supernatural and the everyday, the haunted love affair and the potters at their kiln, the lake-crossing and the market-place.

The crane shot which ends the film, the camera moving up to show us farmers at work in the fields, after the child has decorated his mother’s grave, is a kind of summation. And, throughout, this great artist employs his camera to create images ­– Miyagi among the reeds, waving goodbye to the boat, the lovers on their silken carpet on the lawn, the princess’s first appearance in the market-which are not merely beautiful, but a drawing together of life and legend.
Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1962


Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Production Company: Daiei
Producer: Masaichi Nagata
Planning: Kyuichi Tsuji
Production Manager: Masatsugu Hashimoto
Assistant Director: Tokuzô Tanaka
Script Supervisor: Yoshimi Kimura
Screenplay: Matsutaro Kawaguchi, Giken Yoda
Based on two stories by: Akinari Ueda
Director of Photography: Kazuo Miyagawa
Assistant Photographer: Shozo Tanaka
Lighting: Kenichi Okamoto
Lighting Assistant: Seiichi Ota
Stills Photography: Ennosuke Asada
Editor: Mitsuzô Miyata
Art Director: Kisaku Itô
Period Authenticity: Kusune Kainosho
Assistant Art Director: Yasuo Iwaki
Setting: Uichirô Yamamoto
Scenery: Tazaburô Ôta
Costumes: Yoshima Shima
Make-up: Zenya Fukuyama
Hairstyles: Ritsu Hanai
Music: Fumio Hayasaka
Music Assistant: Ichiro Saito
Traditional Music: Tamezô Mochizuki
Biwa Player: Umehara
Choreography: Kinshichi Kodera
Sound: Iwao Ôtani, Teru Suzuki
Dialogue Consultant: Isamu Yoshii
Pottery Consultant: Zengoro Eiraku

Masayuki Mori (Genjuro)
Kinuyo Tanaka (Miyagi)
Ichisaburo Sawamura (Genichi, Genjuro’s son)
Sakae Ozawa (Tobei)
Mitsuko Mito (Ohama)
Machiko Kyo (Lady Wakasa)
Kikue Mori (Ukon, Wakasa’s chief lady-in-waiting)
Tokiko Mito, Tokuko Ueda (Wakasa’s ladies-in-waiting)
Rôsuke Kagawa (village headman)
Eigoro Onoe (commander)
Saburo Date (commander’s retainer)
Mitsusaburo Ramon (Lord Niwa)
Ichirô Amano (boatman)
Kichijiro Ueda (clothes seller)
Sugisaku Aoyama (old Buddhist priest)
Shôzô Nanbu (Shinto priest)
Reiko Kondo (brothel proprietress)
Teruko Omi, Keiko Koyanagi, Masako Tomura (prostitutes)
Jun Fujikawa, Ryuji Fukui, Eigi Ishiguro, Koji Fukuda (soldiers)

Japan 1953
94 mins

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Ugetsu Monogatari
Tue 3 Jan 20:50; Tue 17 Jan 20:30
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